I am a cyclist and an entrepreneur. It was 6 months back, on this very day that I started cycling and its been slightly over 3 years that I ventured into the world of entrepreneurship.
And every time I mount on the saddle and gently push the paddles, somehow I can’t ignore the unmistakable similarity between cycling and entrepreneurship. This thought has occurred to me so many times that I finally decided to sit down and write about it.
1 ) Its a state of mind
You can’t teach people to become entrepreneurs. Similarly, you can’t ask people to start cycling. Yes, you may get influenced by others and you may get inspired by hearing stories of others, but both of these activities require you to overcome a lot of inertia before you dive in.
One fine day, you hear an inner voice calling and you leave everything else and get started. And yes, cyclists and entrepreneurs are eternal optimists and you need all the positive energy you can amass just to get started.
2 ) The going is tough, especially when you start
The first few days are really hard. When you move out of the comfort of your AC car and mount on a cycle for the first time, the reality and magnitude of your decision dawns upon you. Its seems like you are a rebel and everyone around has their eyes on you. For the first few kilometers of your ride, you enjoy the breeze and the freedom, but soon you start getting tired and you are wondering if you made the right decision.
With entrepreneurship, its more so because the day you leave your fat pay-check, you know you have to figure out a way to survive.
3 ) Follow the uncharted territory, sometimes the forbidden path
One thing about cycling that you do not get to know until you start, is the joy of discovering new trails and taking roads that others do not ( or can not by virtue of their huge vehicles ) take. This is very akin to a startup where you can quickly go and experiment in areas where big companies would take months to venture. This joy, that you get out of exploring the uncharted territory is the hallmark of entrepreneurship and cycling.
And sometimes, you do get adventurous and try out something crazy that you would dare not think of in a big organization. That ability to take the forbidden path is what forms the basis of innovation.
4 ) The resources are scarce
You can’t carry a ton of stuff on a cycle. Every time I go on a long trip, I have to make a hard call on what is absolutely essential to carry and what is not. And once you get on the road, you are the guy who owns it, the guy who runs it and the guy who fixes the puncture. Similarly, in a startup, you are everything from the owner, the marketing guy and the janitor.
5 ) There climb is steep, with several hurdles on the way
One thing you notice the moment you get on a cycle is that the roads that earlier seemed flat now seem to have a gradient. Infact, you wonder if there is any road in this city that has been built straight. Every time there is a uphill climb, your progress slows down and then, as if magically, you get a stretch that goes downhill and you rejoice.
Similarly, as an entrepreneur, most of the things that you try to do seem very hard. The harder you try, the harder they seem to get over. But sometimes, luck is in your favor and you may land a deal that you weren’t even thinking about.
6 ) Its not about how fast you can go, but how long you can last
This beats my common sense, but until I started riding a cycle, I did not ever think that the primary purpose of gears could be to help you save energy, rather than go fast. When you are out for a long ride, your goal is not to get there fast, but to finish the ride. And if you push too hard in the beginning, you lose your energy and risk cramping up before your ride is finished. So your goal is to save as much energy as you can and last as long as possible.
As a startup, the counterpart of energy is the cash you have in the bank. You need to be very miserly in spending the cash because that is your biggest asset. If you burn your cash too fast, your startup may not live long enough to complete the journey you set it for.
7 ) Discipline is paramount to success
One thing that I hear from good cyclists is the importance of cadence in cycling. For the uninitiated, cadence is the number of cycles your feet make every minute as you cycle and once you have a discipline built around it, your body gets accustomed to riding a long way at that cadence without getting tired. Ideally, you should maintain the same cadence throughout the route, but its often very tempting to let the cycle coast on downhills thereby losing the discipline of the cadence.
Similarly in a startup, you are the boss and you do not have a boss who is sitting on your head and setting goals for you. It is extremely important to have a disciplined way of approaching those goals otherwise procrastination sets in and before you realize, you are way behind where you wanted to be.
8 ) You have to be prepared for the worst
When you get on a cycle for a long ride, you need to prepare for the worst. What if you run out of water? What if there is a puncture? What if you meet with an accident? There are several things that could go wrong and you need adequate preparation to address all of these. However, even with all the preparation, things do go wrong all the time, leaving you stranded on the side of the road with no help in sight. You just have to be prepared to deal with situations like this and drag yourself to a place where you can find some help.
In a startup too, things seldom go as planned. As you get into the business, you learn more about the market and your B-Plan literally changes every 6 months ( if not every quarter ). You just need to keep an open mind, take things as they come, take your best decision with the available information at that point in time and move on.
9 ) You ride with your team
When you think of a long trip, the first thought that comes to mind is the fellows you will be riding with. You do make short rides in the city alone, but it is hard to contemplate a full day ride without other people around you. Going out together as a team not only inspires you to do better, it also provides the necessary support system when something goes wrong.
Similarly in a startup, it is very important to have a good team that is with you in good and bad times. The true test of a team is when the chips are down, everything seems to be going against the startup and the team sticks together and sees it through.
10 ) When you finish your ride, its very satisfying
It doesn’t matter how hard it is, but when you finish a long ride, you have accomplished something and you are a very satisfied person. All the hard work, all the effort that went into it was properly channeled towards achieving a goal and finally you achieved it. You had to go through numerous hurdles, at several points you were tempted to turn back, but your will power made you go on and on to achieve it.
Its a tremendous feeling and its the same feeling you get when you have seen your startup through the hard times and turned it into a revenue generating business. The story doesn’t end there, there are new goals to meet, new mountains to cross, but the feeling of having met a milestone that previously looked momentous is certainly exhilarating and extremely satisfying.
That was my experience, what about yours?
I hope that this post inspires more entrepreneurs to start cycling and more cyclists to become entrepreneurs :). If you have had similar experiences about cycling or entrepreneurship or both, please do share them in the comments for the benefit of everyone.